Ethics of non-human primate research at UW-Madison

The following question has been posed: Is experimenting on monkeys ethical?  Let’s start by considering an even more ethically stringent question: Is experimenting on humans ethical?  The answer to the latter question is, obviously, sometimes yes and sometimes no. For human subjects, how do we identify those studies that are ethical?  At UW–Madison, and nationally, this is accomplished by requiring that any proposed study be evaluated and approved by a review board before it can be started.  In other words, the decision is made on a case-by-case basis.

Letter of support from the American Psychiatric Association

“We are writing to voice support for Dr. Ned Kalin’s research. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is the world’s largest psychiatric association and represents more than 36,000 psychiatrists who work to ensure humane care and effective treatment for all persons with mental disorders. An important part of our mission is to promote psychiatric research aimed at reducing the suffering of patients who are disabled from psychiatric disorders. “Research in animal models is essential to deepening our understanding of the human brain, how it works, and how alterations in brain function result in mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, and autism. Dr. Kalin and his colleagues have made significant contributions to our understanding of the brain mechanisms that lead to anxiety and depressive disorders. His work is particularly relevant to children suffering from these disabling illnesses. Dr. Kalin’s earlier work with young rhesus monkeys has revealed the …

Letter of support from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

“We are writing in regard to the ongoing attacks by numerous entities, including the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and Ruth Dekker, MD, on the research program of Professor Ned Kalin. We are the senior leadership of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), the nation’s premier professional society in brain, behavior, and psychopharmacology research. “The purpose of this letter is to convey the position of ACNP that research using nonhuman primate animal models is essential to deepening the understanding of human health, including psychiatric disorders, and must be protected as such. Psychiatric disorders are among the most common and disabling illnesses; twenty-five percent of the population, including children, suffer from psychiatric disorders and suicide is among the leading causes of death in adults and adolescents. It is ACNP’s mission to advance the understanding of the …

Responding to Ruth Decker’s petition

Since September, many people have taken interest in a University of Wisconsin–Madison study on the impact of early life stress on young rhesus monkeys. Thousands have added their names to a petition on the website, calling for an end to the work, and we appreciate and share their concern for animals. But we don’t appreciate the way petition’s author, Dr. Ruth Decker, misrepresents the research. By piling up mistakes, myths and exaggerations, and omitting important information, she asks well-meaning people to speak out with little understanding of the real science and the long, deliberative process through which it was approved. This isn’t fair to the people who signed the petition, or to UW–Madison psychiatry professor Ned Kalin and the scientists involved in the work, or to the millions of people who suffer from mental illness for whom available treatment methods offer little relief. The truth is of little concern …

Statement on early life stress research from the National Institute of Mental Health

“One only has to look at the Ebola crisis to appreciate the vital role that animals play in biomedical research, in this case, in the testing of potentially life-saving vaccines. But, it doesn’t stop there. Neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. Advances in understanding and treating these devastating conditions rests on fundamental basic behavioral and brain science that, as with infectious diseases, begins with carefully conducted studies in animals. NIMH has supported the research in the Kalin lab for many years. This support is part of our commitment to the belief that careful, well-founded, peer-reviewed research such as this will lead to improvements in our understanding and treatment of mental disorders.” — Tom Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Read the letter here. (PDF)

Is it ethical for humans to experiment on animals?

The wide range of students, faculty and scientists at UW-Madison who use animals in research believe that the use of animals in medical research is ethical when performed under strict regulation, in situations where practical alternatives do not exist. The ethical decision amounts to a trade-off between the harm that may be done to the animals and the benefits to suffering patients, today and in the future. The vast majority of biomedical scientists believe that the abolition of animal research is an unrealistic position. While we respect the viewpoint of those who oppose research on animals, we feel that the potential benefits to human welfare, animal welfare and basic knowledge about life are too important to not do the research. An argument can be made that refraining from this research would actually be unethical.

Who uses animals in research on campus?

A wide variety of UW–Madison researchers, including veterinarians, medical doctors, scientists and students at all levels of the university, are involved in animal research. Everybody involved in animal research must be trained in animal regulations and care, and have the necessary skills and training. Also, the research must be carried out in licensed premises meeting strict standards and subject to regular inspection.

How is an animal research proposal approved?

Animal research is described and governed by a “protocol,” a description of the project that constitutes a contract between the principal investigator and the UW-Madison Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC). The review and approval for an animal care and use protocol follows these steps: Protocol application is prepared by the investigator and submitted to the Research Animal Resource Center (RARC), which assigns the protocol to the appropriate Animal Care and Use Committee for review. The ACUC can approve the protocol as is, approve it pending answers to certain questions, or require substantial revision. RARC staff communicates the ACUC’s approval or request for further information/revision to the Investigator. Research can begin after the protocol is approved. Prior to making any significant change to the protocol, investigators must get approval of the relevant ACUC.